You say goodbye, I say hello

January 3, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have been seeking some inspiration and guidance to start my new year off right. It’s 12:15 pm on Sunday and I am still in my pjs, so no, I didn’t start a new diet or an aggressive new workout routine. I am not creating a long list of resolutions that will wane as the year progresses. I am looking for a more meaningful approach – focusing more on a way of being rather those godforsaken SMART goals that ensure I achieve whatever is on my list. Or to remind me when I don’t.

I have closed the door on 2015. Before I jump into 2016, I want to leave some things behind, and letting go is not a great strength of mine.  But I know the best way to make room for the new is to purge the old – whether it’s in my closet or in my heart. I know that it’s much easier to find that perfect blouse when it’s not buried among 4 seasons and 3 sizes of old clothes. Just like I know it is much easier to feel love in the present when it’s not buried in regrets about the past or anxiety/fear of the future. And I know that the best way to find the energy to make this effort to clear out the cobwebs is from a place of love – because love is a renewable energy that not only replenishes on its own, but also multiplies and spreads to others. It’s literally catching!

So to get some help, I perused my favorite blogs (Marc and Angel, and “Momastery” Glennon Doyle Melton) and  listened to some of “The Bloggess” Jenny Lawson’s audio book “Furiously Happy”. I followed my favorite spiritual icons on Facebook and Instagram (Maria Shriver, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, and Kid President) and I completed reading  “The Shaken Snow Globe”by a new author Kristy Dominiak, who I discovered is practically my neighbor and fellow Notre Dame alum.

My first thought is that I could really use a cool nickname for my blog persona (I am open to suggestions!). Mostly though, I am marinating in some pretty amazing content.  I think that one of the consistent threads throughout my favorite writers is that in order to live an authentic life – one that is open, vulnerable and full of love, it is certain that I will experience pain. Not just possible – certain.  Ouch. And sometimes big time OUCH! I reminded myself that even though I was experiencing pain and sadness due to the issues my family faced last year, that same family has brought me immense joy and happiness. I relied on what was in my heart – and on my faith that I was in the right place – to remain hopeful and quell the anxiety that always plagues me at my low points.

Another result of this “marinating” is that I am reminded that even though life is messy, that there can be joy in even the smallest moments. The important thing is to be present – to pay attention – to notice, and to STOP and soak the joy in. For example, I stopped writing for about 30 minutes so that Eric, my significant other Jerry’s son, could climb in my lap to snuggle for a little while.

ericlap2
This is me and Eric snuggling in my office chair. Jerry caught us snuggling, and as usual, he had his camera ready.

He discovered that my office chair rocks. I have a feeling that this could become a favorite snuggle spot in the future, and I am totally fine with that! It made my day – and had I decided to keep going so I could finish my “task”, I would have missed out on a joyous moment.

So when I think about last year – I want to let go of that anxiety. I want to let go of the paralyzing fear that destroys my self-confidence and clouds my heart. I want to let go of my co-dependent tendency to over-fix and focus on other people’s feelings at the expense of my own. I want to let go of the need to cross things off of lists. I want to let go of the self-criticism that happens when I am not at my best.  I will no longer say “I wish I wasn’t wired this way” when I feel pain. I am who I am because of how I am wired – and you know what? I kind of like myself this way. In fact, I have worked really freaking hard to figure myself out – and I have come to accept that my greatest strength of empathy can also be my greatest weakness if I don’t pay enough attention to myself and my own needs.

Thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Eve, I am reminded that I do a better job of letting go when I take part in some sort of ritual.  I am writing these things on pieces of paper and burning them one by one so that I can physically see them disappear. That way when I am sure to get triggered at some point in the future, I can remember that visual and allow myself to let that feeling go.

And thanks to Liz Gilbert’s post on New Year’s Day, I started my first Happiness Jar. The idea is to write down the things that happen in your day that made you happy on a piece of paper – they can be small things or big things. Liz says “When I say that happiness is a consequence of personal effort, this is kind of thing I’m talking about. I’m talking about showing up, paying attention to the instances of good fortune in your life, putting a spotlight on the small good things, and creating a body of evidence that you are (on ALL days) brushing up against grace. Look for it, and you’ll find it.”

happinessjar
This is my Happiness Jar.

 

Moments like this will help fuel me with the energy and love I will need to endure the painful times ahead.

Welcome 2016! Presence is my mantra. My heart, my eyes and my arms are wide open. And PS – Eric is back on my lap, and I am happy.

 

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Take Care! (of yourself)

I started this post on 9/11 and have been struggling crystallizing my thoughts into a cohesive post. Today is the eve of the anniversary of Sandy Hook, and I am determined to finish and post it. I am not sure that it will meet my standards of cohesion, but I decided that I don’t really care. For me, these two events, 911 and Sandy Hook, have touched my the depths of my heart and soul in ways that are impossible to describe. As a result, cohesion is not important to me at the moment. What is important for me is to use my writing to cope with my feelings, and to help me do something about them. And to hopefully inspire someone else out there to do something too.

There is something about this time of year that is so stressful. So many of us make ourselves insane trying to do EVERYTHING to make the holidays incredible. We put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to be happy, to make everyone around us happy, to be productive, to be excellent in every aspect of our lives at work and home.

Maybe there is also something about this time in our lives overall. Many of my friends are balancing having their first or second children, contemplating having children, advancing their careers, and/or dealing with illnesses and loss. I suppose it’s mid life crisis time for a lot of us. I seem to have conversation after conversation with friends about the realization that life is hard, and how it gets harder to pause, to be present with ourselves and the people around us. Harder to take care of ourselves. Harder to put ourselves first. Harder to have hope for the future. Harder to stop and find meaning and purpose amidst the busyness, stress and chaos in our lives.

We set ourselves up to fail with the notion of having it all – whatever that even means these days. But this is not a post about Sheryl Sandberg or the debate her book ensued. This post is about how the deep sadness of Sandy Hook and 911 make me pause in a way that no other events in my lifetime have done.

So I am sitting here on my couch, reflecting on what I want to share. And it’s this. It’s the same thing I have said to my friends in these deep conversations, and to myself when I am present enough to pause and catch myself: You are not crazy. What you are feeling is completely normal and legitimate. Don’t listen when people tell you to “stop feeling” a certain way. That’s impossible. How do you stop a feeling? Stuffing feelings is like playing Whack-a-Mole – a “stuffed” feeling pops up in other places over and over again until they are dealt with. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself.

I have written these words before – but I am writing it again because I feel it’s a universal truth worth repeating over and over again. Self care is not selfish. It is essential. It’s the key to my peace, my sanity and my hope for my present and future. I didn’t really know how to do this until I got help for myself a few years ago. My coach Sherry has taught me to create an achievable goal for each area of my life. This is my most recent list from this week:

  • Emotional: Take time to journal this week about what is happening in my life.
  • Physical: Get a massage.
  • Mental: Finish reading my most recent book purchase, “Selling with a Noble Purpose” and execute on my business plans at work for 2014.
  • Spiritual: Perform an “Act of Kindness” on the Sandy Hook Anniversary this Saturday with my mom by sponsoring a family in need for the holidays.
  • Relational: Bring my Grandma’s homemade soup to my friend who just had a beautiful baby girl.

When I take the time to make my list and to complete them, it’s amazing how momentum builds. Don’t forget about wise Newton and the laws of motion. An object in motion stays in motion. An object at rest stays at rest.

So – do something to take care of yourself today, and better yet – do 5 things in each of those areas to really practice self care. And ask for help if you need it because you are not alone!

“We need to give up on what no longer works and find new ways of being that keeps us close to what matters.”

-Mark Nepo

A Monumental Walk

Last Sunday, I had the chance to be a tourist on a glorious day in DC, and I had such a peaceful day walking the National Mall and monuments for hours and hours. Even though I lived in the DC area for over 12 years, I am still in awe of the majestic views and terrific traffic jams the city has to offer.

This blog post will likely be a wandering journey just like my walk was. My only goal for the day last Sunday was to live in the moment, and to wander where my heart led. So – I am going to use the same approach with my blog post this Sunday. We’ll see what happens!

Armed with comfy walking shoes and my iPod, I started my journey at the National Academy of Sciences so that I could visit my old friend, Albert Einstein.

This is one of my favorite memorials of all time, and I visit Al each time I walk the National Mall. I just love how he’s sitting there, reading and pondering in the natural elements. This image conveys living in the moment in the most perfect way. I hung out with my friend Al for a little while, thinking about one of my favorite quotes of his:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

-Albert Einsten

Oh Al, I am insane so much of the time!! There is something hard-wired in me that makes it very difficult for me to give up – to admit defeat. So I keep trying, sometimes doing the same thing again and again…it’s like banging my own head against a wall. Maybe I am like this as result of growing up in a competitive family…maybe it is because I am a hopeful romantic…there are so many possible explanations. All I know is that I tend to be the kind of person who “leaves it all on the field” so to speak. So yes, I can definitely be more than a little insane! But hey, I never claimed to be a scientist like Al, that is for sure.

I continued my journey, passing the Lincoln Memorial, crossing over to the Tidal Basin because I was eager to see the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

My takeaway from my visit with MLK is his message of hope, which makes sense given that I am hard-wired as an optimist. This may play into my tendency towards “insanity,” but I have to say I would rather be an insane optimist than a despairing pessimist any day of the week.

Excited to be away from the crowds, I continued my walk around the Tidal Basin to revisit Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his wife Eleanor.

As I walked through the four sections of the FDR Memorial that represent his four terms, I though about how I spent my first four years after college graduation as a middle school teacher. I had displayed this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt all year long each school year:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

I love this quote because Eleanor reminds us that we have the power – that we are not victims unless we allow ourselves to become so. She was a wise woman.

Onward to visit another old favorite, Thomas Jefferson. TJ had been on my mind recently because I had just served jury duty for the first time just a few days prior. Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have been called to serve, but I did feel it was my civic duty…just as I think voting is a privilege and a right that we are crazy not to exercise. So a little reminder of the powerful words of the Constitution were welcome to me.

I did also think about how it took some time for equal to include African Americans and women…and apparently we still have a ways to go to legalize gay marriage. I sincerely hope we are well on our way to real equality.

I covered the rest of my walk with a pause to watch the kites flying by the Washington Monument, to take a quick look at Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown at the American History Museum, and to walk through the WW II Memorial…and then back to my car once again.

At the end of my walk, I was peaceful, tired, and thoughtful. Tonight as I get ready for the week to begin, I once again feel peaceful, tired and thoughtful.

Presence v. Presents

Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift. — Oprah Winfrey

 

How many of you are feeling the frenzy of the holiday season like I am? Being an action oriented person, I easily fall into the perpetual trap each year of to-do lists, always adding new things, and can become “unconscious” to the rest of the world around me. How many people did I encounter today where I barely noticed what was said? Did I even look them in the eye when I was speaking to them? Or was I remembering the other 25 things I have to do today? How many times did I check my phone for email and texts while I should have been “present” with where I was at that moment? What did I miss? What did I fail to notice?

My other extreme is my “crash” at the end of the day…watching mindless TV rather than taking the time to reflect…to write…to re-energiize my body, mind and soul. With everything happening in my own life at the moment, and especially since it’s the holiday season, I find that it’s more difficult than usual to remember how powerful it can be to just be still for at least a few moments. My mind and body go back to old habits, and off I go on auto-pilot to tackle the day or prepare for the next. Does this sound familiar to you??

Here is a quick and easy technique that I learned that may help to you “wake up” during the frenzy of your day. It’s something you can do when you realize you are on auto-pilot or if you have crashed, and you want to be present to what is right in front of you – to be able to be “in the moment” with ALL of yourself. This is something you can do in as little as a minute…and/or it is something you can practice to incorporate into your way of being. Take a quick inventory of your senses:

  • What do you see? What is right in front of you, and what do you notice about it?
  • What do you hear? Really pay attention to the sounds no matter how slight.
  • What do you feel? Be mindful of the temperature, and the texture of what you are touching.
  • What do you taste?
  • What do you smell?

When you are aware of all 5 of your senses, you are truly present in the moment. If you have trouble, just watch a toddler because children are excellent at being present in the moment! The challenge now is how to stay present – or how to regain presence once it’s lost. Try this technique to help, and let me know how it works for you!

The meeting of two eternities, the past and future….is precisely the present moment. — Henry David Thoreau